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'I Want to Be Alone'

Greta Garbo uttered this famous line in the 1932 Oscar winner "Grand Hotel." The actress, born in 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden, would forever be as famous for her screen presence as for her reclusiveness, an image she burnished after retiring from films at the age of 36. Photographer Arnold Genthe shot this portrait of the screen legend in 1925.

Arthur Genthe, photographer. 'Greta Garbo,' 1925 Arnold Genthe, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right

Genthe (1869-1942), in his autobiography, "As I Remember" (1936), is the chief source of information about his life. In it, he recounts a cosmopolitan upbringing in Berlin, Frankfurt, Korbach and Hamburg. His father, Hermann Genthe, was a professor of Latin and Greek and, later in life, founded and served as director of a gymnasium or preparatory school.

Under his father's tutelage, young Arnold grew up well versed in topics from poetry to classical literature and was also an accomplished horseman. His father died when Genthe was 17, prompting his mother to take in foreign visitors as boarders. Genthe liked to say that he and his brothers learned 15 different modern and ancient languages between them.

Genthe wished to become an artist. However, the distinguished German painter Adolph Menzel, his mother's cousin, discouraged the youth from studying art. Hoping to instead pursue a teaching career like that of his father, Genthe entered the university in Jena, where he earned a doctorate in classical philology and completed a dictionary of German slang.

Genthe's studies included a year in Berlin and further study of French literature and art history at the Sorbonne before returning to Hamburg. In 1895 he accepted an offer to tutor the young son of Baron F. Heinrich von Schroeder when the family moved to San Francisco. Thus began a new life for Genthe in America.

Genthe's first photographs were made while in the employ of the von Schroeders to illustrate his letters home. With a hand-held camera fitted with a Zeiss lens, he wandered the streets of San Francisco. Like other amateurs, he soon joined the city's camera club to gain access to better equipment and the use of a studio for portraiture. Shown here are Genthe and one of his cameras.

Genthe became involved in photography at a crucial juncture in the history of the medium. The introduction of the handheld camera and easier methods for development and printing encouraged many people to try photography: casual amateurs, serious amateurs interested in photography as art, professional photographers and commercial photographers. Genthe's career bridged these different spheres. He began as an amateur, but soon moved into professional work. He exhibited with art photographers and published his photographs in books and popular magazines. You can read more about Genthe's life and career in the Prints and Photographs Division's Web pages devoted to this extraordinary photographer.

The Library's collection of approximately 10,000 negatives and 8,700 contact and enlargement prints is the largest single collection of Genthe's work and contains images from all periods of his career: the famed photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown, which are probably the only negatives from his early years to escape the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire; views taken during his travels in Europe and Asia; photographs of Yosemite and New Orleans; studies of dancers; and reproductions of painting and sculpture. The greater part of the collection relates to portrait commissions.

The Library's Prints and Photographs Division collections number more than 13.7 million images. These include photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in materials produced in, or documenting the history of, the United States and the lives, interests and achievements of the American people.

Thousands of these materials are available online, primarily in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog and in American Memory, the Web site of more than 9 million multimedia items -- not only prints and photographs, but also manuscripts, maps, films, sound recordings and other fascinating and educational materials that are often rare or unique.


A. Arthur Genthe, photographer. "Greta Garbo," 1925. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-70145 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PH -- Genthe (A.) (B size) [P&P]

B. [Arnold Genthe, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right], between 1927 and 1933 (?). Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-118636 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 4958 [P&P]

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